Home-Schooling, Unschooling and Teenage Liberation

mintz pic“If you want to influence [the student] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.”

So argued the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, said to be a key influence on the Prussian education system, which in turn became the educative model in many countries, including the US and UK.

Sadly, little has changed, according to Jerry Mintz, a prominent figure in the alternative school movement and the founder and director of the New York based Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO).

In a recent interview with The Eternities podcast, he said, “I’m sure that was the template they used and it’s been that way ever since.” Now in its twenty-fifth year, AERO seeks to bolster the alternatives, networking globally to facilitate learner-centred education and help set up schools which share this philosophy.

“The traditional system [has it that] children are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn. It’s all based on that,” said Mintz. “For example, competition for grades, all the forced homework, all these external rewards, because they don’t believe that anything [to do with learning] is intrinsic.”

“Kids are natural learners. This is backed up by modern brain research. The brain is aggressive, it wants to learn. Over six or seven years [in traditional schooling] it gets gradually extinguished. So, by the time you get to age thirteen or so, it becomes a self-fulfilling process, in which kids do then act as if they are lazy and need to be externally motivated to do anything.

“Ultimately, all knowledge is linked, therefore it doesn’t matter where you start, if you go deep enough, and you’re interested, you will learn anything you want.”

Mintz also sees the bullying epidemic in public schools as the result of their organisational philosophy. “They come up with various programs to stop bullying. But [they] will never, ever work, [because] the system itself is an authoritarian, top-down system which will always have somebody at the bottom to be bullied. There is no way to change that unless you have an egalitarian system in which everybody’s rights are respected. That is true in our [AERO] schools and there is almost no bullying.”

The podcast also features an interview with Daniel Sage, a talented aspiring singer/songwriter and musician, who was mentored by Mintz after his family pulled him out of the public school system at age thirteen. Sage was effectively liberated from a stressed and miserable schooling, then literally abandoned to his own devices according to the radical home-schooling philosophy known as “unschooling”. The unschooling method encourages the exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves. It was only then that Sage discovered a love of music and set upon his path of mastering the guitar and becoming a performer.

Sage’s story is an interesting one for parents considering the switch from mainstream education. He comments, “I would say do it and the reason is: you value your kid’s creativity and happiness. And if you don’t value your child’s happiness, then I would say keep them in school, because they’re going to become very unhappy, and they will rebel and be held back, and they won’t know what they are doing in life. And if you let them figure it out for themselves, then they will.”

Listen to The Eternities podcast with Jerry Mintz and Daniel Sage.

For more details about AERO, including their annual summer conference in New York, see their website www.educationrevolution.org.

Check out the music of Daniel Sage at www.danielsagemusic.com.

Martin Higgins

Martin Higgins is a journalist, podcaster and novelist. In 2012 he published Human+, described by KurzwilAI.net as "a science-fiction page-turner inspired by futures studies, psychic spy research, and the transhumanist movement". In 2017 he became a co-Founder and Media Director of Ankorus. He is based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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3 Comments on "Home-Schooling, Unschooling and Teenage Liberation"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Nov 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm |

    What is your greatest regret?
    Having wasted nine perfectly good years in school.

  2. LifelongLIb | Nov 24, 2014 at 2:52 am |

    I was a kid who did the minimum necessary to get by in school, while doing a lot of reading on my own. I probably ended up knowing things like history or literature better than I would have if I had followed the schools’ curricula. But in other areas like math (which I think requires a formal program of study to grasp) I am sadly deficient. I would be better off now if I had taken what the schools offered. So what’s the answer?

    • Earthstar | Nov 25, 2014 at 1:17 am |

      It’s never too late to learn mats, if you spend an hour a day at it like when you were in school, I think you’ll be surprised at how fast things can catch on. The right books definitely help. I was like you, taught myself more than school did. I guess I just did my work quickly as I could and spent my free time reading what I wanted.

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